It's not difficult to see why. What appears to be a relatively simple story on the surface (fish is kidnapped in front of his dad, who has many adventures trying to find him again) turns out to be a deep parable of what it means to be a parent. Finding Nemo follows Marlin, an overprotective clownfish voiced by the great Albert Brooks, as he frantically searches for the son who was snatched out of their home off the coast of Australia and plopped in a dentist's aquarium. Mortifying, perhaps, but director Andrew Stanton ensures that the darker parts of the story are dealt with promptly so they bolster the story without alienating the younger folks the film is aimed at.
The cast of speaking characters is immense, and as Marlin meets more and more different fish, each with an important message for him to find, the tale becomes more epic. It's an odyssey on the scale of Jason and the Argonauts, but with the intimacy of a character study piece. The impressive calibre of actor lending their voices to the movie reflects the quality of the writing. As well as Brooks, there's Ellen DeGeneres, Willem Dafoe, Geoffrey Rush, Barry Humphries and Eric Bana, along with the obligatory John Ratzenberger and a role for the director as Crush, the easy-living turtle who rides the East Australian Current with his son Squirt. None put a foot wrong.
But more important than the voice cast and the moral message is the question of whether Finding Nemo actually appeals to its target audience of kids. Well, I can answer this. I was in that demographic when it came out. I bought a 3D Finding Nemo poster when a Pixar exhibition came to the National Museum in Edinburgh, and it's still in my room. I believe no kid could ever be disappointed by it. There's no time to get bored, as the action moves along very quickly with multiple new characters being introduced every five minutes. It's difficult not to be entranced by Pixar's portrait of the spectacular, vibrant colours of the fish and the Great Barrier Reef, sharp bubbles rising amongst floating rings of azure refracted light. There's comic relief aplenty. It's an instant favourite film.
There's nothing not to like about Finding Nemo. It has charm by the barrowful, and depth to match its setting. Show it to a child and they'll be captivated for the running length. It even manages not to suffer from the Cuddle Syndrome many animated films fall victim to, which involves a blatant overconcern for upsetting children with scary or sad scenes, wrapping them in a thick layer of cotton wool. Finding Nemo takes its viewers, whatever age, along with Marlin on his odyssey, with all the necessary highs and lows. It is a masterwork in movie production, supported by an outstanding script, and it fully deserves its lofty respect in the animation, and wider film-making, world.
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